DAYS BEFORE THE AFC Champions League 2021 Group E matches are set to kick off in Goa, controversy has risen with Persepolis FC, one of the participants, raising claims of 'host sabotage.'
Persepolis are to compete alongwith FC Goa (India), Al-Rayyan (Qatar) and Al-Wahda (UAE) in the group stage. Their first match in the campaign is against Al-Wahda on 14th April, at 8 pm Indian Standard Time. The team was supposed to reach India today but earlier this morning the club issued a statement on its website announcing that their travel would be delayed due to the flight permit not being issued to their contingent on time.
The statement, translated from Persian using Google Translate, is given here in its entirety,
"According to the official media of Persepolis Club, while all the necessary permits to travel to India had been provided and with the efforts of the management team, the project of obtaining visas, transfers and hoteling in Goa had progressed, but since last night, strange things have happened.
The flight permit for the Persepolis convoy is not issued by India, and although members of the Persepolis team and club are waiting to start their journey and set up camp in Goa, there is still no positive news from the host country. According to the information provided to the Persepolis Club, the airport in Goa is in the possession of the Indian Navy and they are evading the flight permit to Persepolis.
Until last night, a visa to travel to India had been issued to the whites of Iran, and the Indian Football Federation had informed the Persepolis team a week ago that they had sent confirmation for the arrival of the team convoy, but within a few hours everything changed. . For this reason, the start time of the trip is unknown and we are waiting for a solution from India. Undoubtedly, this problem has nothing to do with Persepolis Club and the Football Federation, and it seems that the Indian authorities are sabotaging it.
According to international law, these events are the responsibility of the host federation (India) and they must resolve the problems immediately. When it comes to hosting the Asian Champions League in such countries, we have to wait for things like this to happen. Certainly, this is not the first problem of Persepolis caravan in India and it is not the last problem. In the case of quarantine, for example, the Indians have no plans, and the most important challenge for the team convoy in Goa is the fight against the corona virus.
It is possible that the flight to India will be postponed to the next few hours or even tomorrow (Sunday), but in any case, Persepolis Club is waiting to receive a convincing answer."
The travel delay due to extra bureaucratic steps required in the middle of a resurging COVID-19 pandemic may not come as surprise for most people undertaking international travel at this time, but Persepolis appear to have immediately accused the 'Indian authorities' of 'sabotage.' They have also said that the "Indians have no plans" when it came to 'quarantine.'
Although Goa has had a good track record hosting the Indian Super League inside a bio-secure bubble for the entire 2020-21 season, which included two week quarantine requirements for anyone before entetring the COVID-bubble, it seems certain quarantine regulations have been relaxed for the AFC Champions League since teams are supposed to arrive just days before the matches begin and it would be impossible for them to participate if they were to fully quarantine.
But with Persepolis holding this against the hosts, the AIFF will need to be extra careful during the ACL group stage to make sure they come across as competent and successful hosts, especially since they are in the middle of a majo campaign to sure the hosting rights for AFC Asian Cup 2027.
Coincidentally, one of the countries India is competing against to get the Asian Cup hosting rights is Iran, the country Persepolis FC hail from.